IN STUDYING A SUBJECT, it is well to begin at the beginning.
We have to go back a very long way indeed to find the beginning of the ecclesia
which is the body of Christ.
In Ephesians 1:3, Paul tells us that we were chosen "in
Him before the disruption of the world." This is the only time that Paul
uses that phrase, "the disruption of the world," and he does it in
order to place the origin of the ecclesia before it. This is something that we
hope to examine in more detail later in this series.
In his second letter to Timothy, however, Paul takes us even
further back when he writes, "...God, Who saves us and calls us with a holy
calling, not in accord with our acts, but in accord with His own purpose and the
grace which is given to us in Christ Jesus before times eonian."
This is as far back as it is possible for our minds to
travel. The Scriptures refer to no time prior to this. Even such absolute
expressions as "All is out of God" lie within the concept of the
phrase, "before times eonian." If we think of "God alone"—
a stupendous thought—before creation came into being, we are still
"before eonian times." What then is the meaning and significance of
this phrase? An answer to this double question will throw much light upon the
origin and designation of the ecclesia.
The eonian times are specifically related to the purpose of
God. In Ephesians 3:11—a supremely important passage—we have the expression,
"the purpose of the eons." The eons thus define the limits of the
purpose of God, which, like the eons, has both a commencement and a
consummation. They were created in order to confine His purpose within set
bounds, for it could not be left free to come to no conclusion in the
boundlessness of eternity. That is why it is wrong to speak of an eternal
purpose of God, as the King James Version implies, but rather of an eonian
Anything that is "before eonian times" is therefore
antecedent to God's purpose. In saying this, we do not necessarily mean that it
is prior to His purpose being determined within the recesses of His own mind,
but it is certainly prior to its being put into operation. And this is of prime
importance in the case of the ecclesia, for, as we hope to show as this series
of articles proceeds, God's purpose is made to depend upon the special
relationship which exists between Christ and His ecclesia. It requires both to
bring about its glorious fulfillment. For if Christ is the means by which God
achieves His ultimate goal, the ecclesia is the medium through which He
achieves it. Hence Paul prays that God may have glory in the ecclesia and in
Christ Jesus throughout all the generations of the eon of the eons. Amen!
The gift referred to in 2 Timothy 1:9 is not a general one
made to all creation, or even to all humanity, but is specifically given to
"us in Christ Jesus," and the "us" is defined in the earlier
part of the verse as we us who are called "with a holy calling, not in
accord with our acts, but in accord with His own purpose and the grace which is
given to us in Christ Jesus before times eonian." Now a gift cannot be made
unless there is someone to receive it, and it is made abundantly clear that the
gift is to "us in Christ Jesus" and not to "Christ Jesus on our
behalf." Therefore we, that is, the ecclesia, must have been in existence
before the eons began, though this existence was not as a separate entity, but
as perceived by God in Christ Jesus.
This second letter to Timothy is the last of Paul's recorded
epistles, written when the period of his dissolution was imminent (4:6). It is
instructive to observe a progression of thought as we move through his writings.
In his earlier letters, he sees believers as those who have
been baptized into Christ Jesus; we are baptized into His death
(Romans 6:3). We are chosen from that which is not, that God should be
discarding that which is, so that no flesh at all should be boasting in His
sight (1 Cor.1:28,29). In Ephesians, the first letter of the prison group, we
are chosen in Him before the disruption of the world. By the time we come
to the end of his writings, we are seen as having been in Christ before times
How do we reconcile all these positions? Let us go right back
to the beginning and trace the matter through.
THE SON OF GOD'S LOVE
The very beginning of all is God. There was a time
when He was alone, for out of Him is all. At some point in the dim and distant
past, His vast love—that feeling which was the essence of His very self—longed
for love responsive. It yearned for someone to return His own feeling. Out of
that intense longing and yearning was created the Son of God's love (Col.1:13).
That Christ is a created Being is made clear from several
scriptures. Revelation 3:14 speaks of Him as "the Amen, the Faithful and
True Witness, and God's creative Original." 1 Corinthians 8:6
declares, "Nevertheless for us there is one God, the Father, out of Whom
all is, and we for Him, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through Whom all is, and we
through Him." In this passage the distinction between God and Christ is
made clear. God is before Christ, and all is out of Him. All is not out
of Christ, but through Him. Christ Himself is out of God, for He is God's
This distinction is again made clear by comparing Romans 11:
33-36 with Colossians 1:12-17. In the former scripture, which speaks of God, we
read that " out of Him and through Him and for Him is all." In the
latter, which speaks of Christ as the Son of God's love, we learn that "all
is created through Him and for Him," but not out of Him.
This description of Christ as the Son of God's love is most
profound and most illuminating. God's Son is the evidence and the expression of
the full outpouring of the Divine affection. God's love desired a response, and
found a complete satisfaction in the One He brought forth. And latent in this
One, Who now added His sublime splendor to the glory of His Father, lay the
Divine concept of the ecclesia, which in turn was to become the complement of
When God wishes us to understand the spiritual, He often
gives us the natural as an illustration—in this case the relationship between
the first man and the first woman. When humanity was created, we are told,
"And creating is the Elohim humanity in His image. in the image of the
Elohim He creates it. Male and female He creates them."
Again, in Genesis 5:1,2 we read, "in the day the Elohim created Adam in the
likeness of the Elohim He made him. Male and female created He them. And
blessing them is He, and calling their name Adam in the day they
are created." Thus from the very moment of Adam's coming into being the
woman was associated with man in the Divine purpose. She was a reality in God's
The same is true of Christ and the ecclesia. The ecclesia is
as long existent as is Christ Himself. Though concealed in the Son, it was
sufficiently a reality as to be the recipient of a gift of grace in Christ
THE MEANING OF GRACE
Grace has two distinct aspects in Scripture. We generally
think of it as favor bestowed on one who deserves the opposite. This is how it
is used in Ephesians 2:5,8 "In grace are you saved." This is how it is
applied to each of us individually. But this is not the meaning of the word as
used in Philippians 2:9, "Wherefore, also God highly exalts Him, and graces
Him with the name that is above every name." There is no suggestion here
that Christ deserved any other appellation than that which God bestowed upon
Him; the word "wherefore" discounts this.
The basic meaning behind the word charis, translated
"grace," is "joy." The Greek word chara actually
means "joy," and charoo is the verb form meaning
"rejoice." So charis (grace) is defined in the Keyword
Concordance as "an act producing happiness," and this is its first
meaning. "A benefit bestowed upon one who deserves the opposite" is a
secondary, though immensely important, meaning of the word.
As a result of Christ's obedience unto death, even the death
of the cross, God graces Him with a name which is above every name, and the
resultant happiness is made evident in the words that follow, "that in the
name of Jesus, every knee should be bowing, celestial and terrestrial and
subterranean, and every tongue should be acclaiming that Jesus Christ is Lord,
for the glory of God, the Father" (Phil.2:10). In this particular bestowal
of grace by the One Who is in all things Supreme, there ensues a special
happiness to Christ Himself, for by His exaltation with its accompanying
acclamation by all creation, He is assured of the wholly satisfactory outcome of
His toil and travail on the cross.
There also ensues a happiness to every creature in the
universe, for it is in the name of Jesus that every knee shall bow, and
the word "Jesus" implies salvation (Matt.1:21). But above all, a
special happiness accrues to God Himself, for through this bestowal of grace on
His Son, the universe, temporarily estranged from its Creator and Sustainer, is
brought back into reconciliation with Himself, peace having been made through
the blood of Christ's cross (Col.1:20). Thus the whole operation is "for
the glory of God, the Father."
Now, when the gift of grace was bestowed upon the ecclesia
before eonian times, this too was in the nature of "an act producing
happiness." It is not, in this connection, "a benefit bestowed on one
who deserves the opposite," for nothing had occurred at that time to evoke
estrangement or opposition to God. And the happiness that this gift produces is
not confined to the ecclesia itself, for as we shall see in later studies the
ecclesia is designed to be the medium through which the reconciliation of all
will be completed (Eph.1:23).
Thus we have so far reached a situation in which we are able to assess that the
ecclesia was originally created in Christ as a result of God's love desiring to
express itself, and was given a gift of grace as a consequence of God's longing
to bring happiness to all His creatures. What a privileged position!
But if this is so, where has the ecclesia been throughout all
the period covered by the Hebrew Scriptures—indeed, throughout half the period
covered by the eons—the part prior to the cross?
We can best answer this by again looking at our natural
illustration, and noting the sequence of events in Genesis 2:18- 25.
"And saying is Yahweh Elohim, 'Not good is it for the
human for him to be alone. Make for him will I a helper as his complement.' And
furthermore Yahweh Elohim, having formed from the ground..." We pause for a
moment and ask, What did God form from the ground?
Was it a woman that He formed? The answer is, No. We
continue, "...having formed from the ground all field life and every flyer
of the heavens, He is also bringing it to the human to see what he will call
it." We may ask, Whatever has this to do with finding a complement for
Adam? But wait. Let us read on. "And whatever the human living soul is
calling it, that is its name. And calling is the human the names for every beast
and for every flyer of the heavens, and for all field life. Yet for the human
He [God] does not find a helper as his complement."
Now do we see the force of this scripture? That out of all
which had been created, there was not one that could be found to be a complement
for man. All could be brought to him to be named, and the names that he gave
them could be associated with them for perpetuity, but there was no one to which
the name of complement could be given. Why? Because all these were external and
of different species, and the one that was to be his complement must come from
within, and be of the same kind. The word "complement" means
"that which fills up," and there could be no filling up if the place
were not first made vacant. Adam, before the woman was taken from him, was
complete in himself; afterwards, the woman made him complete.
Now this teaches us a very great scriptural truth with regard
to Christ and His ecclesia. The analogy is the same. Our Lord, we know, created
all things; He was God's Executor; without Him not one thing came into being
which has come into being. Everything received its name and its character from
Him. And yet, in all the magnitude of creation, among all the hosts of heaven
that inhabit the vastnesses of space (and heaven is not short of inhabitants)
there were none who could rightly be termed His complement. There were none of
the same kind. No, His complement too must come from within, and that is why we
have it, "chosen in Him before the disruption of the world.
This is the aspect of the ecclesia which is ever before the
eyes of God. He sees it preeminently, not as a multifarious conglomeration of
individuals, chosen from without, to be brought into Christ (although,
from another aspect, this is indeed a fact), but God views it as a single
entity, holy and precious, and chosen from within.
It is on this "within" aspect of the ecclesia that
we desire to ponder. It is this "within" aspect that entitles it to be
called, "the ecclesia which is His body," and which gives it an
absolutely unique position in the whole universe. It is the most exalted
position that can be held by any of God's creations apart from Christ Himself;
it is also the most intimate position in its relationship to God. The standing
of the ecclesia before God is influenced and determined only by the standing of
the Son of God's love in the eyes of His Father. The relationship of the
ecclesia to Christ, the bond that exists between them, and the strength of the
love which Christ has for His complement are things that can only be
appreciated, even faintly, by those whose minds are constantly dwelling on
THE COMPLEMENT NOT A BRIDE
If only believers in general understood the true relationship
between Adam and the one who was made his complement, they would much better
understand the nature of the tie which exists between Christ and His ecclesia. Adam
never had to seek a bride. He never had to woo anybody. Indeed, as we have
seen, there was no one among all creation that could be found as suitable for
his complement. It was left to God to find one for him, and God did not form
another being from the soil of the ground. Such a one might have become a
companion for Adam, but could never have functioned as his complement. No, God
provided Adam with a true complement, taken from within himself.
And so it is with Christ. To find the ecclesia, which is His
body, the Lord never comes to earth as a Bridegroom seeking a bride. He never
comes to seek a complement from without: He leaves it to God to provide one from
If, as we say, believers in general only understood this,
they would not sing such a hymn as "The Church's one foundation is Jesus
Christ, her Lord," without, among other things, altering the lines,
"From heaven He came and sought her to be His holy bride." It is good
poetry, and a favorite hymn, but it is simply not true in connection with the
ecclesia which is His body.
It is correct, of course, that the Lord is pictured in the
Scriptures as a Bridegroom, but that is in connection with His relationship to
the nation which He served when He came to earth. The faithful in Israel will be
the bride, and ultimately the wife, of the Lambkin; there is no such term
as "the Bride of Christ" in the Word of God. The position of
the ecclesia about which we are writing, is infinitely closer and more
gloriously connected to its Lord and Head than ever the Israelitish bride of the
Lambkin can be.
How then did Adam obtain his complement if he did not go
forth to seek her? The answer is given in Genesis 2:21 and 22. "And falling
is a stupor on the human, caused by Yahweh Elohim, and he is sleeping. And
taking is He one of his angular organs and is closing the flesh under it. And
Yahweh Elohim is building the angular organ which He takes from the human into a
woman, and bringing her is He to the human. And saying is the human, 'This was
once bone of my bones and flesh from my flesh. This shall be called woman, for
from her man is this taken.'"
Who did this? Who performed this miracle? Yahweh Elohim. Adam
was quiescent throughout the whole operation. And so, for a similar reason, we
find Paul saying, in Ephesians 1:3, "Blessed be the God and Father
of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who blesses us with every spiritual blessing among the
celestials, in Christ, according as He chooses us in Him before
the disruption of the world."
And so, to answer our earlier question, all down the
centuries covered by the Hebrew Scriptures the ecclesia was hidden, as it were,
in Christ, oblivious of the passage of time, oblivious even of its existence,
unknown and unseen by anyone. It was, however, from the very beginning a great
reality in the mind and purpose of God. In due course, God caused a deep stupor
to fall upon His Son, the stupor of death. For three days He lay in the tomb,
and was then roused by the mighty power of God, and from that time, in God's
sight, the ecclesia began a separate existence—a glorious celestial existence
to accord with the status of her risen Lord, for its realm is "inherent
in the heavens" (Phil.3:20)—and she is to be presented to Christ, without
spot or blemish, as His complement—that without which, even in His highest
exaltation, He would not be complete.
CHRIST'S LOVE FOR HIS ECCLESIA
Adam's sleep was for his own sake, it is true, that he might
have a companion, but in a special sense it was for the woman, that she might
have a conscious and separate existence. Christ's death was, as we know, for
all, but in a very special sense indeed it was for the ecclesia, that it, too,
might have a conscious and separate existence. And so we read, "according
as Christ also loves the ecclesia, and gives Himself up for its sake...that He
should be presenting to Himself a glorious ecclesia"—an ecclesia in
which, through its union with Christ, God Himself would be able to find glory
throughout all the generations of the eon of the eons. Amen!
Thus, not the least of the blessings accruing to Christ as a
result of His being obedient unto death is the fact that He now has a
complement, the ecclesia, which He dearly loves (Eph.5:25), and which should be
reciprocating that love.
We close this section of our study by quoting Paul's prayer
in Ephesians 3:14.
On this behalf am I bowing my knees to the Father of our Lord
Jesus Christ, after Whom every kindred in the heavens and on earth is being
named, that He may be giving you, in accord with the riches of His glory, to be
made staunch with power, through His Spirit, in the man within, Christ to dwell
in your hearts through faith, that you, having been rooted and grounded in love,
should be strong to grasp, together with all the saints, what is its breadth and
length and depth and height—to know, besides, the knowledge transcending love
of Christ—that you may be completed for the entire complement of God.